JERUSALEM (Dec. 15)
The present stage of Arab-Israeli peace talks in Washington will run its course this week, and the Israeli delegation will then come home, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told the Cabinet on Sunday.
He said Israel wanted to “exhaust” this round and not leave prematurely.
But Israel will continue to press hard for the next round of talks to be held in or near the Middle East, Shamir said. Whatever the venue, Israel’s talks with the Palestinians are strictly limited to procedural issues.
There will be no delving into substantive subjects before there is a full-scale Cabinet debate, Shamir stressed. He indicated that such matters as autonomy for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would have to be approved by the Cabinet before they are put on the table.
Shamir also cast doubt that the multilateral talks on Middle East regional issues would open as scheduled in Moscow late next month, because of the fluid situation in the crumbling Soviet Union.
The bilateral talks in Washington ended their first week last Thursday on an uncertain note. The Israelis and Palestinians were mired in disputes over procedure, though both sides seemed genuinely interested in resolving their differences.
Israel’s talks with Syria were reported to be extremely chilly and close to deadlock. But Israel’s three sessions with the Lebanese delegation were described as businesslike and cordial.
Israel reportedly has a peace plan ready to submit to the Lebanese, but it would be contingent on the withdrawal of all Syrian armed forces from Lebanon.
Few details were revealed of Shamir’s Cabinet briefing. But he appeared anxious to reassure his far-right coalition partners that Israel will make no offers to the Palestinians before they are thoroughly aired and approved by the Cabinet.
‘ON THE RIGHT TRACK’
His remarks seemed aimed especially at Yuval Ne’eman of Tehiya, who is minister of science and energy, and Rehavam Ze’evi of Moledet, who holds no portfolio. Both opposed the peace talks in principle and have threatened to pull their factions out of the Likud-led coalition if the Palestinians are offered any form of self-rule.
Judging from their remarks to reporters after the Cabinet session, they were reassured by Shamir’s positions.
The prime minister also spoke briefly to reporters. He emphasized that the continued unity of the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation is a matter of principle on which Israel will not relent.
The Palestinians insisted last week on talking to the Israelis as a separate entity. The upshot was that their three days of meetings were conducted in the State Department corridors instead of in the conference room provided them.
The Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, meanwhile, published an upbeat interview with the senior Jordanian negotiator in Washington, Dr. Abdul Salaam Majali.
Jordanians in official positions rarely allow themselves to be interviewed by the Israeli media.
Majali was quoted as saying, “I think we’re on the right track.” He said he believed the two sides were moving closer to a solution that would enable them to leave the corridors for the conference room.
Nevertheless, he thought that meeting “out in the open” had advantages. “It’s good we sat where people could see us. Had we been closeted away, that would have immediately given rise to suspicions,” said the Jordanian physician-turned-diplomat.
He appeared worried, however, about extremists on both sides trying to wreck the conference. He believed they would have a better chance if the talks were moved to the Middle East.
In fact, he was troubled by Israel’s insistence on a Middle East locale. “If the talks are held close to our countries, the media will be there in force, and the extremists will be able to apply their pressures,” Majali said.
“If we want to conduct relaxed negotiations, we must be far away” from the region, he said.